Gandhi in one of his famous quotes said, “An eye for an eye and we’ll both be blind.” The phrase is beautifully represented in this film, which in my opinion is one of the best about the escalation of conflict. A “perfect” case study on so-called lose-lose solution, in which a typical situation in a conflict, namely the existence of a resource – in this specific case, a house being “fought” over by two people, resulting in a disastrous outcome for both.
This fact is, in short, the situation between Kathy Lazaro (the character played by Jennifer Connelly) and Massoud Amir Behrani, a former colonel in the Iranian aviation who fled to the USA after the fall of the Shah (played by Ben Kingsley). Kathy is a young woman who going through a very difficult period in her life; she is an alcoholic and has economic problems, abandoned by her husband, and struggles to pick up the pieces of her life.
Suddenly, her purpose is blown away when, due to a bureaucratic error for the non-payment of $ 500 in alleged taxes (which were not due), she loses the only fixed point that she has left. The reference point from which she was starting to rebuild her life: the house left to her by her father before he died. This, in fact, is put up for sale by the County and regularly purchased by Behrani, for which the purchase of the house is his “American Dream”, the opportunity – finally – of redemption (for him and his family) after difficult years, great sacrifices, working double shifts and lying to his loved ones to hide a very difficult economic situation. With these delicate personal situations as a background, a tough battle between the two protagonists begins over the property, a no holds barred fight between two people who cling to the same dream and will go to any lengths to reach it, until the tragic end.
In this comparison, there are moments in which Kathy and Behrani could have done something different. However, the “construction” of the script turns out to be very effective in showing the dynamics of escalation in a dispute, in which each step is geared towards the worsening of the situation and never towards finding a meeting point. The film, in fact, is full of these moments, we could define them as being “thresholds”, beyond which the situation can never be the same again.
Let’s take an example. Lester Burdon (the policeman who falls in love with Kathy and leaves his family for) advises the woman to leave it all to the lawyer and avoid going to what she still considers her home. And she, in response, remains without money for the hotel and finds herself in front of the house one evening trying to spy on the new owners, and falls asleep in the car. Next morning, Kathy tries to intervene to prevent some renovation work being carried out and, coming down from the roof, she hurts herself. This is the first contact between the protagonists of the story, which ends up becoming a fight, precisely because – as anticipated – every step is the beginning of a perverse mechanism of action / reaction.
In this dynamic, there are also some shy attempts at negotiation: e.g. the one between Kathy’s lawyer and Behrani, who does not agree to sell the home to the County at the purchase price because he wants to sell it at the market price (for four times as much). “It’s a matter of necessity for me and my family … I have no choice in this matter”, concludes the ex-colonel laconically, closing any opportunities for alternatives.
With great effectiveness, the film represents a conflict that the intervention of other characters, on the one hand and on the other, fails to contain. In fact, in the case of Behrani, his wife (who is the only one that somehow manages to make contact with Kathy) and his son, cannot push the husband to abandon his position of aiming to achieve the maximum possible (indeed, in the case of the child’s behaviour, it causes a tragedy). While, in the case of Kathy, the involvement of Burdon is even more devastating, after the first threat to Behrani and his family, he then loses his head at home the ex-colonel (who in the meantime has rescued Kathy from attempting suicide) and takes the family hostage.
Only at this point (i.e., one step from the brink of death) Behrani proposes a solution to settle the dispute: to give the house back to the County, receive a cheque equal to the price paid for the purchase of the house, and give the same sum to the girl in exchange for the sale of the same house to Behrani. “At least you’ll have that money and he will have what he wants, the house … you’ll both end up winners and nobody loses”, adds Lester to a sceptic Kathy. “We need that money to start over … we have no choice now”. And this really seems like a valid assumption to break the deadlock situation.
However, if it is true that the human mind is often influenced by the mutual suspicions and fears, this is displayed in all its severity in the final scenes of the film. So, while Burdon, Behrani and his son go to the County hall, the inevitable happens and this delicate “cooperative” balance breaks and the lack of confidence prevails. The tragedy at this point, is just around the corner and no one can avoid it. In fact, the winds of war blow hard and spare nobody.
After watching the movie we can comment that the ownership of the house, after all, does not have much point, when the value of life comes into play. But it’s too late to go back … with the knowledge that much can be done to avoid getting to such a low point, however, even with that it all depends on our behaviour.